Friday, Jun 23, 2017

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2008)

If you’ve already seen one or six productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and you’re thinking that you can skip this year’s production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival… wrong wrong-y wrong wrong. Assuming you can still get tickets, buy two: one to see the show, and one to sacrifice to Dionysus as an apology. There is so much good about this production that I have to start the kudos with Mark Rucker, a new director to the Festival. He is absolutely fearless in the chances he takes, embracing them rapturously rather than mincing them for fear of rejection.

Rucker decides that the audience wants to be entertained first and foremost – this isn’t Richard III or The Tempest, this is lovers romping in the forest and faerie queens makin’ out with man-donkeys. So, he sets the Duke of Athens (my personal favorite, Michael Elich, who conquered the world last year in The Taming of the Shrew) and the queen of the Amazons in 1950’s Chicago. Shakespearean poetry in mobbed-up midwest… beautiful. The town mechanicals soon arrive on stage… in a psychedelic VW van. Ray Porter’s Bottom steals this and every other scene that he appears in, which is saying something when a bunch of hippies are cavorting.

Right… so then we move into the forest… the fey… Oberon (Kevin Kenerly, another favorite, in fine form here… starting to see a pattern?) and Titania (Christine Albright, and please forgive me but hubba – divine in last year’s Romeo & Juliet, superb here) look like they dangle off of Thunderdome when they aren’t cavorting in forests. And the faeries themselves? Tall, muscular men in mesh shirts, stockings, high-rise boots and gym socks, and tutus. Yep, club kids from the mid 80’s. They all work it, but John Tufts as Puck iiiisss… hell, I don’t know. Transcendent. Perfect. Queer as a three dollar bill. Who cares what you call him, he’s wonderful. When you think you get how good he is, he breaks into song. Traditional Shakespearean fare, right? Not when he sounds like Depeche Mode. (Thanks to L. for the analogy…)

As I told a co-worker yesterday, “I’ve seen “traditional” AMND productions, and now that I’ve seen this I don’t think I ever need to see another production again.” Plenty of people try to be inventive, but this was so close to “the line” that I can’t imagine anyone going farther without going over it. (I disagree completely with Marcus Crowder, who thinks this production is overstuffed. It’s stuffed juuuuuust right.) What do I mean? I often think of Shakespeare (and maybe I cribbed this from some class long ago, so please no accusations) as a canvas upon which companies can paint their own thoughts and feelings. Similar to opera, there’s an assumption, imo, that an audience at a Shakespearian production (particularly at OSF) doesn’t need to be coddled through the story – we either know it, or we’re proficient at listening to the language, so hit us with your best shot.